The Anaheim Ducks should be considered officially back to contention after their fourth straight win Saturday, Nov. 7. By contrast, the vanquished San Jose Sharks have not won two games in a row since starting the 2015-16 NHL season with four straight.
Anaheim’s pictured stars of the game carried their team to victory while San Jose’s kept theirs in. Only one game separates the two in the Pacific Division standings with 68 more games for both in their 2015-16 NHL season, and they seem headed in opposite directions.
Currently, the Sharks technically hold the final automatic berth into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Pacific Division as a third-place team despite being .500 in a league that have averaged over .560 in each of the last two seasons. Both remaining games against the Ducks this 2015-16 NHL season are on the road, making it even more likely the teams change positions.
Yet the main role reversal is simply who won, as it was Anaheim’s first win in San Jose in its last nine tries including the Oct. 10 contest. The three-time defending Pacific Division champions are still struggling to score consistently and that will not last forever.
The Sharks are having the same problem to a lesser degree, but it may be more serious. In the 11 games since Logan Couture went down with a broken leg just above the ankle (again, amazing detail in a league that loves terms like “upper-body injury” and “day-to-day”), they have scored more than two goals just five times and were shutout twice. Their 26 goals over that period have been padded by a shootout win and three empty-net goals.
NBC probably should not be in a hurry to feature tilts with the Ducks. Three goals were scored between the Pacific Division rivals in two games so far this 2015-16 NHL season.
San Jose yielded a goal before the first television timeout for the fifth time in its last six games, and that was it for the scoring. In his second game returning from an appendectomy, Ryan Getzlaf got the puck from line-mate Patrick Maroon in the defensive zone and fed long-time partner in crime Corey Perry entering the attacking zone for the breakaway goal 4:56 in.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic had joined the rush and no forward covered for him. Maroon initiated the play after one of Patrick Marleau’s seven giveaways—perhaps an indication of distraction?
Could there be something to the reports Marleau is on the trading block? By the end of the night, CSN Bay Area Insider noted via Twitter that the one-time captain was on the fourth line but also had noted in the broadcast that there has never been any indication the face of the franchise wants to be with another one.
On the other hand, Marleau had five shots on goal and plenty of help in the giveaway department. The event summary shows that was literally the only statistic the Sharks lost in: 11 more faceoff wins (38-27), nine more giveaways (19-10), three more takeaways (7-4) and seven more hits (35-28) leading to 10 more shot attempts (53-43); despite this, they had four more blocks (14-10) to widen the shots on goal even more (31-17).
It was an even more dominant performance after the first television timeout. After giving up those first seven shots and nine attempts, the Sharks ran off an astounding 31-10 differential. They just could not get a single shot past a backup goalie that came into the game with a goals-against average (GAA) over 4.00 in the first three games of the 2015-16 NHL season. The reason the Carolina Hurricanes did not keep Anton Khudobin is he was 8-17-6 with a .900 save percentage and 2.72 GAA last season.
If San Jose cannot put one past Khudobin, what is it going to do without Couture for the next few games? If its offensive depth is thrown by one injury to a scoring-line winger, what will it do when the grind of the 2015-16 NHL season results in more players being out? The time to find answers is before the rest of the Pacific Division wakes up.